Ep01: Basic Tones (re-run)

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Bite-size Taiwanese | Pronounce it like a Pro
Ep01: Basic Tones (re-run)

NOTE: Phil has been out sick these past couple of days, so today's episode will be a re-run of Ep01: Basic Tones.  Don't worry, we'll have a brand new Pronounce it Like a Pro episode two weeks from today. Stay tuned.

In this first episode of Pronounce it Like a Pro, we learned the 7 basic tones of Taiwanese.

(These show notes use tables and rich formatting. Please visit the episode webpage for an optimal viewing experience.)

When we talk about “tone”, there are two parts to it:

  1. Pitch: High, Mid and Low
  2. Contour: Flat/Level, Falling, Rising or Stop

Tone 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 are the long tones, and Tone 4 and 8 are the short tones that end abruptly in a stop (i.e. -p, -t, -k, or glottal stop, written as “-h”).

When we write Taiwanese using the Tâi-lô (TL) Romanization system or the Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) Romanization system, the tones are marked with a diacritic on the core vowel of each syllable.

Below is a summary of the 7 Taiwanese tones.

7 Basic Tones of Taiwanese

You can also check out the tone diagrams on our website.

Tone Pitch Contour Sounds like... Examples
1 High Flat When a doctor asks you to open your mouth and say “Ahhhhh”. Kha” /kʰa˥/ leg, footSann” /sã˥/ clothesHe” /he˥/ thatTshia” /tɕʰia˥/ car, vehicle
2 High Falling When you’re angry and you’re shouting: “No! Hey! Pháng” /pʰaŋ˥˧/ bread” /hə˥˧/ good, wellTsuí” /tsui˥˧/ waterTshiú” /tɕʰiu˥˧/ hand, arm
3 Mid Falling A sigh, “ugh”, or if someone punches you in the gut “uh”. Tshù” /tsʰu˨˩/ house, homeKhòo” /kʰɔ˨˩/ pants, trousersTshài” /tsʰai˨˩/ vegetables; a dishKuàn” /kuan˨˩/ measure word for bottles
4 Mid Stop Huh...” that’s interesting. Or when you catch someone staring at you and say: “What, what are you looking at?” Tsiap” /tɕiap̚˨/ juicePit” /pit̚˨/ pen, writing utensilSik” /siək̚˨/ color; appearanceBah” /baʔ˨/ meat, flesh
5 Low Rising Really?”, when you can’t believe it. Thâu” /tʰau˨˦/ headLâng” /laŋ˨˦/ person, people” /te˨˦/ teaTsînn” /tsĩ˨˦/ money
6 -- (merged with other tones) --
7 Mid Flat In meditation or yoga, you have that mantra, “ohm” that you hold in either the middle or lower part of your voice. Pn̄g” /pŋ̍˧/ cooked rice; a meal” /mĩ˧/ noodlesLōo” /lɔ˧/ road; routeBīn” /bin˧/ face
8 High stop Wut?!”, when you’ve heard something shocking. Lia̍p” /liap̚˥/ measure word for round objectsJı̍t” /dʑit̚˥/ day; sunTo̍k” /tɔk̚˥/ poison; cruelGue̍h” /gueʔ˥/ month; moon

sai 獅
hóo 虎
pà 豹
pih 鱉
kâu 猴
(káu 狗)
tshiūnn 象
lo̍k 鹿
soft-shelled turtle

In Taiwan one common way to help children remember the tones is the “tone animals”. It is a phrase comprised of seven (or eight) animals, each of which has a different tone. The students would memorize this phrase as well as the melody of it. So whenever they want to know which tone is which, they could refer to this template they have learned by heart.

Try practicing it a few times yourself. It will be helpful for you to establish a melody template of Tone 1 to Tone 8.

Music Credit: TeknoAXE

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